To recap: after doing maths in St Andrews for half of June and all of July, I spent a couple of weeks in Nottingham with some of my family. We got out on our bikes a bit, and tried to make the most of whatever small piece of summer we could salvage from 2012. I returned home to Perth half way through August, and shortly afterwards, I took the opportunity of visiting Emily to bring my bike home from St Andrews. I wanted to go on some bikes rides.
My first bike ride, a week or so later, was a route of about 20 miles that I’ve done several times before, taking me first south, to get out of Perth, and then west along one side of the Earn valley before returning home on the other side of the valley.
I would’ve been out on my bike sooner than that, but as was typical for 2012, the weather hadn’t been great. It was cold and, as you can see from some of the photos from my last post, there was a lot of rain about. Indeed, on that bike ride I ended up spending about half an hour under my umbrella, sheltering from torrential rain. Packing a waterproof jacket and umbrella would become standard operating procedure for the rest of my rides.
Just 3 days after that, on the 27th August, I decided that the weather was good enough for my next outing.
There aren’t many official cycle routes around Perth, but the main one which passes through is Sustrans National Route 77 of the National Cycle Network. It runs from Pitlochry, which is roughly 30 miles to the north of Perth, through Perth, and then all the way to Dundee, which is 20 miles to the east. I had ridden the route northwards once or twice before, but only as far as Dunkeld. The section of the route towards Dundee had always been something that I’d do “one day”. It’s a least 20 miles each way, and the roads are exposed to the full force of the weather. To tackle them, you ideally want a long, warm and dry day with little wind. That is, a nice summer’s day, something which we’ve been lacking recently.
I could be waiting years for such a summer’s day when I’m in Perth with my bike with enough free time. I was only lacking lovely weather, and you can’t always have everything. The 27th wasn’t forecast to be particularly sunny or warm (a maximum temperature of around 15ºC), but it was meant to be dry and calm, so I took the opportunity to get out.
My plan: head towards Dundee.
Initially my intention was not to cycle to Dundee, only to cycle along Route 77 towards Dundee and then turn back and head home whenever I felt like it. Indeed, I didn’t end up reaching Dundee, as you’ll see, but I almost did. I got as far as Invergowrie before deciding to head home for the day. I had a good time – I always find it exciting to cycle along a new route. It’s an adventure, a discovery.
As it turned out, I mostly stuck to the official roads of Route 77, although I decided to throw in a little detour for lunch. Here’s the route that I ended up taking (click to see a better version, or an even better, not scaled down version: left hand side, right hand side):
And here is a link to that route on Google Maps: http://goo.gl/maps/dS738.
My total mileage was about 42 miles (about 20 miles each way and 2 miles for my detour) and you can see that I was generally heading in a sort of east-north-east-erly-ish direction. What the map doesn’t show you is that the stretch of the route from Glencarse to Invergowrie is pretty much level – which for a long bike ride is perfect. At least: perfect in my opinion. There are no large hills to speak of, just the occasional rise and fall, so no cause to get sweaty or out of breath, or need to dismount and walk.
There is one exception to this topological constancy. Kinnoull Hill, directly to the east of Perth:
That’s the view of Kinnoull Hill from my old bedroom. Kinnoull Hill is the plug of an old volcano, one which has been extinct and hence has been eroded away for millions of years. Despite that, it still stands over 200 metres tall, and blocks the way between Perth and Dundee. You can’t cycle to Dundee without surmounting it: to the north are more hills, and to the south (the right-hand edge in the above photograph) lies the motorway and then immediately there is the Tay. Both of these are significant obstacles to bikes, and I’d recommend that any cyclist avoid rivers and motorways.
I started my bike ride in the early afternoon, at about sea level. At one point the route takes you on a small bridge over the River Tay, and as the Tay at Perth is still tidal, you can pretty much take it to be at sea level.
After leaving that bridge, the route climbs sharply up the side of Kinnoull Hill (although thankfully you don’t have to reach the summit). I reckon, after quickly consulting an Ordnance Survey map on bing maps, that the road crests at about 140 metres – although I could be wrong. Here’s a photo which I took shortly before I reached that point:
I had walked almost the whole way up, getting off my bike when the gradient of the hill was too steep, and finding the leisurely walk pushing my bike up the side of the road far more pleasant than forcing my leg muscles to keep me moving uphill on two wheels.
Again, I was doing the naughty thing and listening to an audiobook for the whole duration of the ride. I did wear my helmet again, and I turned the book off and removed the earbuds when I was cycling quickly, in traffic, or attempting something dangerous. After finishing Consider the Lobster on my previous ride, and after having finished the first book in the “A Song of Ice and Fire series” (A Game of Thrones), for this bike ride I chose to listen to A Clash of Kings. For the first part of the day, and during the walk uphill in particular, I was listening to the first chapter, which was the prologue. Naturally.
Shortly after reaching the apex of the road, and only after descending very slightly, the road becomes very alpine-feeling: hugging the contour lines on the side of a hill, on a road carved horizontally into the slope. I love it, and what’s more, the route provides some great views. I stopped my descent, got off my bike, and had a look around:
I took all of the photos on this bike ride with my iPhone, and as my phone includes GPS technology, every photo is saved with location information in the Exif data. According to that data, these two photos were taken at an altitude of 138m – quite a climb from ‘sea’ level!
Just visible in the higher-resolution version of the above photo is a freight train meandering along the railway line to Dundee. That was a nice spot to see from up on the hill: a Class 66 operated by government-owned company Direct Rail Services (DRS) and in their colours, hauling what I call “the Asda train”, an assortment of containers bound for Aberdeen, mostly branded as Asda or W. H. Malcolm. It sounded quite loud too, and was cracking along at a fair pace. Cool.
After getting my fill of the scenery, I replaced my helmet and iPhone, turned off my audiobook, and headed down into the valley. As I pulled away, my bike was making a worrying rattling sound, but I couldn’t locate the source of the malfunction. I held my brake cables tight, but that didn’t stop the noise. I held my bell, but that didn’t change anything either. My brake blocks were aligned correctly and my spokes were fine. What could it be?
I headed down a bit of steep hill, and took a tight corner at too ambitious of a speed. I slammed on the brakes as hard as I dared, but I still veered wide onto the verge at the edge of the road. The bike shook violently, but unbelievably to me, I didn’t panic and I remained upright. I cycled off with a deep belly laugh at my brush with disaster.
Soon I was off my bike again, as the road was heading up too steeply. The noise from my bike had only gotten worse whilst I was cycling it, and after fiddling around for a while, I finally figured out what was wrong: one of the two nuts keeping my front wheel in place was loose and had almost fallen off. My wheel was almost loose. Craziness. I quickly tightened it with my fingers (it held), climbed the rest of the way uphill, and then got in my seat to ride the rest – and bulk – of the way downhill.
And some hill it was. I soon passed a sign that said this:
20%: for every 5 metres travelled horizontally, you travel 1 metre vertically. That’s a lot. The rest of my journey down into the valley would be a steep one, and – a couple of metres beyond the sign – one that I’d never done before. That’s a dangerous combination.
My audiobook was still switched off, but after all of the effort I put in to get up the side of Kinnoull Hill, there was no chance that I was going to squander my gravitational potential energy and trundle downhill at a slow speed. I released my brakes, pedalled as far as I could, and then sat back in the saddle for stability. The descent started out well, but I quickly got into trouble as I traversed what must’ve been the steepest part of the hill: my brakes weren’t sharp enough to stop me from veering onto the wrong (right-hand) side of the road on a left turn. Fortunately there was no on-coming traffic, but had there been, I might have had a near miss. Despite applying my breaks, my speed was still increasing, to around 35 mph, and my cornering was becoming wider and wider. I pulled on my breaks as hard as I could, and eventually I started slow: but not before cycling over a very rough and cracked patch of road which I was going too fast to avoid. It was one of the scariest moments of my cycling life when I was going over them. I was so unsteady and out of control and going so fast that I was sure that I was about to be thrown off my bike and down the middle of the road. I let out a loud “FUCK!”, but I was okay. I was okay.
I drifted on, there was one more turn, and then the rest of the road was straight: I let my brakes go, pedalled to regain a bit of speed, and at a leisurely 31 mph, I cruised down towards a crossroads at the bottom of the valley:
Next time, I’ll take that hill more slowly.
I caught my breath, turned A Clash of Kings back on to hear more about the maester up to some tricks in the Prologue, and I continued my journey, now in the flat stage.
There is not much more to tell: the Sun soon started shining through the clouds, and I enjoyed a leisurely ride. I particularly enjoyed the first valley at the bottom of the hill, towards the left in the crossroads shown above, and before reaching Glencarse. There was something secluded and private and wonderful about it all, yet majestic. I was truly into new cycling territory.
The miles piled up, and so rolled by the hours. So it was that I found myself feeling remarkably hungry, and looking for a place to stop and eat.
One of my very favourite aspects of life is eating, and I am almost always looking forward to my next meal. Before departing, I had taken great pleasure and care in putting together my food and drink for the journey. Fluid-wise, I had packed both a 1½ litre and a 750ml Highland Spring bottle filled with water, along with a can of Dr Pepper and a can of Orangina. Food-wise, I’d make a prawn mayonnaise sandwich, a jam sandwich, and brought a banana or two.
I pulled in by the road just before Errol, took the picture above, and then consulted the map: that little road would take me down to the river, and by the river I might find a nice place to eat. I waited for the traffic to clear, which included 2 cyclists. The instant I saw them, one or two hundred metres away, I just knew that they’d be taking the same road as me. Even though the cycle route continues onwards, even though there was nothing down that road, I knew that they’d go there, and that I’d then look like I was following them, and then I would have to make awkward conversation with them, and not be able to eat my lunch in peace.
That’s exactly what happened: they turned down onto the road to the Tay, and I followed. They were serious cyclists and much faster than me, but I caught up with them at the river. We exchanged greetings, but thankfully they left shortly afterwards. Maybe they’d seen that I was going to go down the road, and had just wondered what all the fuss was about. Copying me, basically.
I was left with a nice spot by the river to eat and drink and prepare myself for the rest of the journey:
It was nice, and in the audiobook I got to listen to the chapter which included the tourney for Joffrey’s 13th name day. I got back on my bike, turned around, and headed the ¾ miles or so back to the main road, and turned right, onwards to Dundee.
By this point I had gone around 13 miles, but I was still full of energy. I passed through Errol – a first for me – and continued to follow the cycle route. Soon I noticed that the road was getting closer to the railway line (which also heads to Dundee), and eventually I came to a level crossing.
I like level crossings. At a level crossing, you might see a train. I crossed the line slowly and dismounted on the other side.
I consulted the National Rail Enquiries app on my phone, and found that there would soon be a train departing Dundee, which would then pass my location on its way to Perth and eventually Glasgow. I waited, and was rewarded with a pair of Turbostars passing through:
ScotRail always runs their Glasgow to Aberdeen trains in this fashion on a Sunday. Trains are half as frequent, but twice as long: not a great compromise, in my opinion.
After another drink, I cracked on, determined to go further and discover some new places. The roads from this point on were very flat, and there were large and flat fields to either side of the road for many miles. It was uneventful, and I enjoyed the views and the audiobook, until I approached a built up area, which I concluded must be the first outskirts of Dundee:
By this point the Tay was very wide, well into its estuary, and the Tay bridges seemed very close. I pressed on, cycled through some small village or suburb of Dundee, and soon I came to Invergowrie. I headed for the railway station, where I knew I would find a bench where I could sit comfortably and finish the rest of my food and drink.
As it was a Sunday, there were no trains stopping at the station for the whole day, so I didn’t have to worry about getting in the way of passengers. A couple of local kids walked by and gave me funny looks, but it was mostly a quiet and restful break. No trains even passed through – although there is an average of one train per hour on a Sunday, in reality there are two trains every two hours, and they both come quite close to each other. So the gaps between trains is more like two hours than one.
By this point I had cycled about 22 miles, and I was starting to tire. If I was to get home – which I very much wanted to happen by the end of the day – I would have to get there under my own steam. I had come ~20 miles, but I still had another 20 to go.
I posed for a photo of myself when the Sun came out:
In the above image, over my right shoulder, you can see a bridge. That bridge is on Perth Road, and is part of Dundee. So whilst I had not literally cycled to Dundee, I almost had. It was within reaching distance, almost. However, although the Sun had come out, it was getting late in the day, and I had no time to explore further. I would need to return home before the temperature dropped, the light got dim, and I got too hungry to continue (a boy needs his dinner!).
After about 45 minutes at Invergowrie, I got back on my bike, and had an uneventful 20 mile cycle back to home, in Perth.
I passed the river again, and the clouds started coming back in:
And eventually I had to climb out of the Carse of Gowrie, and make the gruelling journey back up over Kinnoull Hill:
And when I was back to ‘sea’ level, I had done 40 miles:
I got home at around 6:45pm, having spent close to 6 hours out, cycling and walking and sitting and eating; all whilst listening to a substantial part of A Clash of Kings. I was tired, exhausted, but in a good way. I’d earned it – and being covered in sweat was the proof. I jumped in the shower, then got out in time for dinner, and then went to relax in bed with a cup of Earl Grey and my Kindle. A good day.
Here are the final statistics:
I had a really fun bike ride. I hope you enjoyed reading all about it.